If you have equipment which is fixed or too large to be put away, what can you do to prevent the threat of damage overnight? Police Sergeant Cotton of West Midlands Police has some advice for you to follow.

Security and vandalism are concerns to all sections of the community in some shape or form. The operators of nursery and playgroups are no different to other groups. The advice I am about to give is generic and each location would have to be assessed on an individual basis, to identify the correct measures to use.

A number of groups have complained that they have invested money and energy into providing outdoor play equipment for the use of the children at the group, and then they come in one morning to find that the equipment has been damaged or stolen.

There is no one solution to the problem and neither is there any guarantee that if you follow the below advice you will not become a victim of crime. But by following the advice it can reduce the risk for you.

I don’t intend to go into great detail about the virtues of individual products, but instead will ask you to consider a number of things. You can then decide on the solution that best suits your group.

CCTV

If you are connected to, or are part of, a larger school that has CCTV, you need to check that the equipment is actually working and that the areas that are causing you concern are in fact covered by the camera. You would be surprised to know how many systems are not working effectively or even recording.

Then find out about the quality of the image being produced. As police we see a lot of poor quality CCTV images. It might be that the lighting on the site is low and so at night you are unable to actually see the equipment that it is intended to protect. It might be that since the system was installed trees have grown and now obscure the view.

Find out if the system is monitored. If it only records, you will not be able to prevent any damage being caused. You may be able to look after the event, but that will only be truly effective if the quality of the image is good.

 If you are at the stage of thinking about installing CCTV consider carefully where to locate the equipment and make sure that it can be seen.

Natural surveillance

It might be that you have houses that overlook the site. Some settings have encouraged the local residents to report people on the site, either to the site manager or to the police. You could consider trying to start a neighbourhood watch in the area. If your children live in that area, their parents could be used to provide the eyes for you.

Sometimes the damage is caused by young people who just want somewhere to meet, but don’t realise that the equipment is only meant for young children and won’t take their weight, and as a result it gets damaged. We have found that by getting the young people involved in projects they tend to look after it more. So have you considered talking to the secondary schools in the area and getting them to help design playthings or even help build play areas for the group?

Fencing/boundary treatment

Fencing is sometimes very costly and only slows people down for a short time. You can have high metal-weld mesh-style fencing that is more aesthetically pleasing than just metal railings, but sometimes the local authority is not keen on making your site look like a prison.

If you are part of a larger site where a number of entrances allow access, it may be more effective to develop a neighbourhood /community solution to the problem.

A number of sites have high hedges and overgrown bushes around them. If you do have bushes keep them well trimmed. Keep bushes to a maximum of one metre high and if you have trees keep the bottom of the canopy to two-and-a-half metres. This allows better visibility for people who may be passing by or who live within sight of your setting to see what is going on.

Deterrent signage

Most local authorities have local laws that prevent trespass on school ground outside normal hours and at weekends. Put signs up and encourage people to challenge people who ignore them. I must impress on you that you should not get into arguments with groups of people, but you could point out the signs and consider calling the police if you think damage is being caused or is about to be caused.

Conclusion

It is very difficult to totally remove the risk of having outdoor play equipment damaged. But you don’t have to spend a fortune on CCTV, alarms and guards to reduce the risk. If you can involve the local community, this can be the most effective as well as the cheapest option. You provide a vital service to communities. If you have had the misfortune of having equipment damaged then use that experience to raise the profile. Report the incident to the police. If you don’t report it then they can’t deal with the problem. Tell the press and make sure you get the message out via your parents and friends, letting them know what has happened and the effects of what has happened on your children, on staff morale and on your budget.

The website below has a section on security for those in schools which includes a useful audit of your situation and your responses to it. School governors may find it a valuable tool if they are looking into this issue.

For further information contact:
www.west-midlands.police.uk

Police Sergeant Dave Cotton
West Midlands Police Force Crime Reduction Office

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